“Oliver” at Ivoryton Playhouse
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Take the musical “Oliver,’ which contains some wonderful songs by Lionel Bart, add some professional character actors, top it with a large cast of local children, mix it up with director Bruce Connelly, and you’re bound to have a formula for success. The results show that folks are trekking to this summer playhouse, located in the tiny town of Ivoryton, CT, to enjoy this entertaining show.
The Ivoryton Playhouse is a historic theatre that hasn’t changed much since local actress, Katherine Hepburn, began her career here. This can present a problem when undertaking a full-scale musical with a large cast. Yet, with cleverly designed convertible scenery by Cully Long, and choreography by Kelly Shook, nothing seems to suffer by attempting this ambitious production. The London streets, numerous interior scenes along with Doug Harry’s mood lighting create very pleasing effects.
However, it’s the original, Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” whose storyline fits together like pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle, is what really suffers when condensed into a musical. In “Oliver,” we never learn about England’s Industrial Revolution and what motivated each of the characters to behave the way they did. Without reading the book, we cannot possibly understand the background of Oliver’s wealthy relatives with whom he eventually finds happiness. Thus, the musical lacks cohesiveness and this in turn affects the final, lukewarm impact. Nevertheless, “Oliver” is packed with wonderful singing and dancing and is pure entertainment for everyone.
If you haven’t read “Oliver Twist,” the story is about a runaway orphan who encounters an adventurous, but very hard life among the street-smart characters of London.
Of the many “Oliver” productions we’ve seen, Neal Mayer’s humanistic portrayal of the underground thief, “Fagin,” is surely one of the best. Mayer’s hunched over ethnic mannerisms, facial expressions, expressive hands, sing-song voice, even his dancing in “Pick a Pocket Or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation,” adds vital energy to the show. In this actor’s interpretation, fascinating Fagin, father figure to his gang of starving street orphans, becomes a character that one could both sympathize with and love. It’s worth a trip to Ivoryton for Mayer’s performance alone.
Among the other professionals we have Michael Cartwright as the sinister, orphanage director, “Mr. Bumble” and Maureen Pollard who aptly plays the “Widow Corney,” Bumble’s hypocritical accomplice. Kimberly Morgan powerfully sings her heart out as “Nancy” in the haunting, “As Long As he Needs Me.” Nancy’s lover is a cruel “Bill Sykes,” played by T. J. Mannix, and “Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry,” played by Robert Boardman and Tara Gesling, make a lively pair of amusing, funeral directors.
Children are always fun to watch but none of them at Ivoryton are polished, professional performers. Heading the children’s cast are Tyler Felson, “Oliver,” who tenderly sings “Where is Love,” and the feisty, “Artful Dodger” is Nathan Russo.
The show is lively fun for everyone.
Plays to Sept. 2
Tickets: 860 767 7318
This review appears in “On CT&NY Theatre” August/Sept 2012